Legendary Technicolor cinematographer Jack Cardiff brings a certain amount of visual panache to The Girl on a Motorcycle, one of his final directorial efforts, that prevents the film from tipping completely into eye-roll territory. Cardiff allows the colorful sensuality that was mostly sublimated in the Powell & Pressburger masterpieces The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus to spill over wherever it likes here. The result is a psychedelic trip that’s tough to take seriously, but remains fairly interesting despite a wafer-thin narrative.
Marianne Faithfull stars as Rebecca, a newly married housewife who wakes up one morning in her French country home, feels a wave of revulsion for her square schoolteacher husband (Roger Mutton) and takes off on her motorcycle, clad only in a skintight black leather jumpsuit. She’s on her way to visit her lover, Daniel (Alain Delon), in Germany, and as she makes the journey, she narrates a series of flashbacks recalling her loveless marriage and her torrid affair with Daniel, who gave her the motorcycle as a wedding present.
Fantasy mingles with flashback — Faithfull’s sexually charged performance acting as the common denominator — and the expressive sensuality extends to the present as well, with Rebecca’s motorcycle acting as a not-so-subtle counterpart to her raging libido. Cardiff often bathes his images in a monochromatic wash of neon color — it’s absolutely corny, made up of the same pseudo-experimental, sorta-psychedelic mishmash that comprises the worst parts of Easy Rider, but Cardiff is committed to the gambit, and his considerable skill makes itself clear in the less gimmicky moments.
Cardiff’s gorgeously composed images of life on the road and the fractured, campy narrative make for strange bedfellows, and The Girl on a Motorcycle never coheres into a truly successful study of desire, discontent or unbridled passion, but it’s never boring. For a healthy dose of ’60s Euro psychedelia, it’ll do in a pinch.